"Turner Classic Movies:
A Blessing on My House"
seem to hate just about every new movie that I see, and since I am neither
assigned to see these films nor paid to review them, itís strictly an issue
of what fires me up emotionally. In the year or so Iíve had this website,
not a single new film has fired me up in a positive way; thatís why all
the reviews on this site are negative. Reading all of these negative reviews,
one might surmise that I donít like movies. Well, I love movies. I just
donít like many recent ones.
While I was away in New Zealand recently, God chose to smile on me and
put a blessing on my house: my cable company added Turner Classic Movies
to the basic cable line-up. I could now easily dispense with all of my
other movie channels: HBO, Showtime, The Movie Channel (I donít get Cinemax),
AMC, Bravo, the Independent Film Channel and the Sundance Channel.
For my money, all of the good movies are on TCM. (Itís unfortunate
that the abbreviation looks so much like TMC, The Movie Channel.)
an old saying in film distribution that goes: "In the film business,
the only positive thing is the negative." This means that when everything
is said and done, whoever owns the negative is probably in the best position, and
in the course of time will be able to continue making more deals.
Ted Turner heard this old expression and took it very seriously. I believe
that the Turner film library is the biggest in the world. It was collectively
known as the "MGM Library" when Turner purchased it, but it also includes
many films produced by other studios. Many of these films were shown
from a Wednesday until a Friday on their original release, then put in
a vault and never shown again.
of the silent movies made between 1890 and 1927 no longer exist, Iíve always
wondered how all of the early sound films from the late 20ís and early
30's were holding up. Iím very pleased to report that everything Iíve seen
from the Turner Library looks great! The print of Cecil B. DeMilleís 1919
film "Male and Female" was almost perfect: not a speck of dust, no breaks,
and all of the proper tinting. (As a little historical note, nearly all
silent films were tinted on their original release Ė blue for night scenes,
gold for interiors Ė but any prints made after the original release did
not contain the tinting.)
"Male and Female" (1919) Ė This is a darn good Cecil B. DeMille picture,
meaning it was only 20- 30 minutes too long and only a moderate bore.
Gloria Swanson, who shot to stardom due to this film, was absolutely stunning.
She is 22 years old, and has just about the most incredible eyes of anyone
that was ever in movies. As she herself said 31 years later in "Sunset
Blvd.", "Sound? Back then we had faces." Well, Gloria Swanson has
a face all right; her eyebrows are a show unto themselves. Her use
of her hands is pretty amazing, too.
Meighan in the lead is a stodgy bore, but Alvin Wyckoffís photography is
90 minutes into the picture, for absolutely no good reason, Mr. DeMille
does a flashback to ancient Babylon 4000 years ago where a vaguely similar
version of the present-day story weíre watching is taking place. This sequence
contains the filmís most famous scene (another famous one was
of Gloria getting into a bathtub). A very big, real lion lies
on top of an obviously real, tiny little Gloria Swanson, who was 4í11"
and never weighed 100 pounds. You watch the scene thinking, "Yep, thatís
really Gloria Swanson, and thatís really a lion, all right. I wonder what
this has to do with anything?" The answer is: nothing. What was particularly
fun for me, however, was seeing the rest of DeMilleís entire career lurking
in that utterly extraneous Babylon scene. I could almost hear him saying,
"Ooooh! Ooooh! Big sets, scantily-clad dancing girls, long lines of soldiers Ė
This is the way to go."
"Anthony Adverse" (1936) Ė This was one of the big Oscar nominees of that
year; it lost "Best Picture" to "The Great Ziegfeld". It won "Best Supporting
Actress" for Gale Sondergaard, and sheís very good as the weird, evil love
interest. Based on a big bestseller, and at 141 minutes, "Anthony Adverse"
is an interesting example of the "sprawling" school of storytelling, in
very much the same style as Edna Ferber (who was also quite popular at
this time). The story spans 40 or 50 years, during which the Napoleonic Wars
occur. Fredric March and Olivia DeHavilland are the star-crossed lovers
that can never seem to be in the same place at the same time. Claude Rains
is, as always, wonderful as the bad guy. The best things about the film are
Tony Guadioís Oscar-winning photography and the outrageous MGM
sets which recreate Italy, Cuba and Africa (where March becomes a slave trader
for a while) without ever leaving Culver City or resorting to the use
of a stock or 2nd unit shot. Erich Wolfgang Korngoldís score
is truly absurd: bashing, booming and clanging when nothing is happening
on the screen.
"They Wonít Forget" (1937) Ė This film is famous for launching the career
of Lana Turner, who was supposedly sitting at the soda fountain at Schwabís
drugstore, wearing a very tight sweater, when she was spotted by producer
Walter Wanger. The word is that she was 16 years old when she did this
film. Let me tell you, brother, she is one well developed 16-year-old,
and had to be going on 17 very soon. I will simply join the consensus
and say that Lana looks terrific her tight sweater and skirt. There is
one tracking shot of her walking up the sidewalk that is almost obscene.
("Itís like jello on springs.")
story of "They Wonít Forget" was very provocative for 1937, and was clearly
following up on Fritz Langís film "Fury" from the year before. In a small
southern town, a cute girl (Lana Turner) is killed. Three men are suspects:
her teacher, who we saw coming onto her; her boyfriend, played by a very
young, jive Elisha Cook, Jr.; and the black janitor. The new D.A., played
by Claude Rains in his usual feisty manner and with a ridiculous southern accent,
is going to nail somebody for this murder, even though thereís no real evidence.
For a little bit, both we and the janitor believe it will be pinned
on him simply because heís black. As the press exploits the story,
and superimposed ticker-tapes go past saying, "Exploit racial angle," the
story veers away from the racial angle. Claude Rains goes after the
teacher, whom he promptly prosecutes and indicts entirely on circumstantial
evidence. In a clever shot, the lynch mob chases the teacher across a railroad
yard, and the camera swings over to a mailbag being yanked off an item that
looks just like a scaffold. At the end, the teacherís wife tells Claude
Rains and the fast-talking reporter that her husband was innocent. She
leaves, and the reporter quips, "So, who do you suppose actually killed
that girl?" Claude Rains shrugs, "Who knows?"
"Our Dancing Daughters" (1928) Ė This is the film that launched Joan Crawford
to stardom, and she really looks like sheís working her ass off for it. This
film is considered the quintessential Roaring 20's/Jazz Age movie (along
with "It"). Itís sort of like watching an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel without
any of the cynical social commentary. Three cute flapper girls are confronted
with a moral dilemma: should they put out before marriage? Joan, the wildest
jazz-baby of the bunch, puts out and regrets it. Nevertheless, she has
all the fun and has a terrific Charleston number. Being made in 1928, the
year after sound occurred, this film has no idea whether itís a sound or
a silent film. A phone rings and we hear it; the character answers it,
speaks, and nothing comes out; then it cuts to a title card. It also has
wall-to-wall music and several "Winchester Cathedral" abodeo-doe-type
songs for good measure.
you see, I do like movies and I get a big kick out of them all the time.
Luckily for me, since I canít get the stimulation I crave from new movies,
there are still thousands of old movies I havenít seen yet.
Dec. 28, 1998